NEW technology and innovation are great for transforming transportation.
When it comes to roads and highways, it is not just one big technology but rather a combination of several technologies that are integrated and working together.
Street lamps connect to one another in some cities, and a lot of cars are getting smarter.
But what about the infrastructure to support these new innovations? What about making highways smarter too?
In fact, there are people and companies working on technology to not only make our roads more intelligent but also safer.
PLUS Malaysia is committed to leading Malaysia towards a smart highway system through use of data and analytics.
Chief technology and innovation officer Shamsul Izhan Abdul Majid says many automotive manufacturers are producing connected vehicles, electric and autonomous vehicles.
“People are expecting these smart autonomous vehicles to drive them but if the highways are unable to handle this type of vehicles, then the cars themselves will not be as smart as manual handling will still be required.
“When people buy these types of future cars, they expect to press a button and the highway can ‘talk’ to their cars, and vice-versa. This cannot happen overnight.
“The infrastructure has to be improved as well to be able to support smart vehicles. My hope is that on the Plus highway, drivers can just press a button and get a hands-free drive,” he adds.
Shamsul, who is also Teras Teknology (the technology arm of Plus) chief executive officer, cites research — people’s emotions will not affect driving when the car is driven by a computer.
“According to MIROS statistics, 80 per cent of traffic incidences are caused by human factors, such as when somebody overtakes or couples argue in the car.
“But by connecting cars and highways, both will communicate and adjust the speed accordingly and navigate the highways,” says Shamsul, adding that this may happen in less than 10 years.
Plus also wants to introduce a predictive model.
”The model can predict when the journey won’t be as smooth as usual because it is expected to rain or there is a motorcycle convoy.”
Plus held its first Innovation Day last November to share and explore possibilities that could enable greater services for highway customers.
HIGHWAY OF POSSIBILITIES
Themed Highway of Possibilities (Hope), Plus showcased new technology and innovation from the company.
Speakers and participants demonstrated their innovation-based products to the public.
The highlight of Innovation Day was the demonstration of Gator Getter, a fast-speed highway debris removal equipment.
Soon to be launched here, Plus also is the first company in Southeast Asia to showcase the Gator Getter service. Plus has purchased only one to be tested on the road for the time being.
“The Gator Getter is like a big tank with a mouth and is attached to our own existing vehicles that will travel on the road at normal speed. The mouth scoops up debris like tyres, wood and foreign objects that drivers need to avoid. The debris is stored inside the tank,” says Shamsul.
There are many obstacles on the highways which may be from various sources — such as from transporters which did not properly secure their loads.
“We’ll be doing further tests with the related agencies and departments. Once we get the green light, we plan to put one Gator Getter at several section offices.
“If the debris is too dangerous and scattered, we may need safety vehicles to slow down the traffic first. Human intervention is still needed before sending in the Gator Getter.”
Beginning this year, Plus is testing video analytics and establishing data collection at toll booths. Initially, the CCTVs are placed at toll booths for surveillance. Moving forward, it will also be used for video analytics where the data will be used for decision-making in the future.
“It is basically looking at footage captured by CCTVs, processing information such as classification of the vehicle, taxiing or congestion.
“Next is our adoption to cloud, to be more in real-time, and to lessen operation costs. All this is to prepare the highway for multi-lane free flow, which the industry is moving into by 2023-2024. Multi-lane free flow is basically referring to highways with no toll booths,” says Shamsul.
Chatbots will be implemented in May to automate customer service conversations.
Plus traffic centres get some 1,000 calls per day, where 60 per cent are not important questions like toll fares and weather.
“Of course, it may be important to customers and we do answer all the inquiries but it takes away our resources.
“Chatbots will answer these phone calls so the human operator will be able to handle more pressing calls involving accidents or emergencies.
“Data for the chatbots are being collected from our database including toll systems and video analytics that are real-time to assist customers with the appropriate answer,” says Shamsul.
Shamsul also shares his goal in addressing traffic congestion.
“Look at the airline industry during the 1960s to ‘70s where the prices of flight
tickets did not vary much regardless of time or airline.
“These days, ticket prices vary according to time and airline. You may get very cheap tickets in the early morning or late at night compared to afternoon or evening flights.
“Now imagine this concept being applied on the highway. We have turned our toll booths into an Internet of Things device that’s able to do real-time tracking of the cars that go through it.
“This is not to say that toll prices will increase but small fare changes may be applied at a certain time of day. So one may decide to eat dinner first, for instance, so that one can enjoy lower toll fares later.”
Plus will use machine learning and artificial intelligence to understand the potential if there is variation in toll fares.
This ecosystem of toll fare collection is already happening in many developed countries where they are using technology and innovation to understand and influence people’s movements.
“To really have an impact in terms of congestion, we need to adopt the multi-lane fast flow and have devices to bring richer data to eventually lead to this dynamic toll system.”
Plus is organising a bigger Innovation Day with more streams or topics to be covered during the event.
Shamsul says to transform a smart highway system involves “not one jump but a series of small jumps” and Plus is taking it one step at a time.
“Events like Innovation Day offer Plus the platform to challenge itself as the leader of the expressway industry through class-leading examples of continuous inventing in addition to inviting new ideas and innovation from both internal and external parties.”
Plus welcomes innovators, be they individuals or startups, to pitch ideas to help it to become a smart highway.